It may sound like an oxymoron, but Week 15 was actually a pretty good one for just about every team in the NFL. The teams at the bottom continued to lose, while the best ones (mostly) escaped unscathed. Outside of the Chiefs being upset by the Titans and the Redskins just about knocking themselves out of playoff contention, most teams had a decent weekend.
Now come the grueling final two weeks of the season, where everything is on the line. A loss in Week 16 could crush a team like the Buccaneers or Dolphins, while a win could solidify a playoff berth for a handful of others. With just two crucial games remaining, let’s take a look at the penultimate power rankings of 2016.
Cleveland Browns (last week: 32)
The Browns aren’t going to win a game this season. There, I said it. They just aren’t competitive anymore, and it’s getting uglier by the week. But hey, at least RG3 is proving he’s not the guy in 2017.
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San Francisco 49ers (last week: 31)
There’s really no place to go but up at this point, even though they’d probably benefit from two more losses to lock up a top-two pick in the draft. Chip Kelly, if he’s still around as he’s likely to be, will need to hit a few home runs this time around.
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Los Angeles Rams (last week: 30)
Dropped passes, missed throws, failed trick plays: The Rams can do it all. Maybe if Jeff Fisher were still the head coach they would have beaten the Seahawks, as they used to have a knack for doing.
New York Jets (last week: 28)
The Jets have gotten to the point where they’re hardly competitive in games. Todd Bowles keeps insisting he’s not concerned about his job security, but he probably should be. Sheldon Richardson is making brash comments on Snapchat, and Bowles’ lack of control over the locker room points to a deficiency in leadership.
Jacksonville Jaguars (last week: 29)
The Jaguars hit rock bottom Sunday, blowing a comfortable lead to the Tom Savage-led Texans. Gus Bradley was going to be fired regardless of the outcome, and now they’ll attempt to start over for two weeks with Doug Marrone as the interim coach.
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Philadelphia Eagles (last week: 25)
Since his red-hot start, Carson Wentz has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, if not the very worst. Some of that has been due to his lack of help at receiver, but he’s become careless with the football, and it’s costing the Eagles wins. Philadelphia is out of the playoff race now, so it can focus on figuring things out for 2017.
San Diego Chargers (last week: 24)
The Chargers once again found a way to lose a game in heartbreaking fashion, blowing another fourth-quarter lead to the Raiders. It’s been the mantra of the team all year long, and it shows just how close it is to competing despite a rash of injuries.
Chicago Bears (last week: 27)
The Bears lost a heartbreaker to the Packers – a game they easily could have won. Had John Fox gotten gutsy and went for a touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal, Chicago may have pulled off the upset of the season. Or if the secondary doesn’t let Jordy Nelson behind it, perhaps the Bears win it in overtime. Regardless, they are identifying promising players such as Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, Cameron Meredith – and dare I say – Matt Barkley.
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Arizona Cardinals (last week: 23)
David Johnson continues to look like an MVP candidate, but the Cardinals' 5-8-1 record will prevent him from even contending for the award. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are question marks for next season, and while both are likely to be back, there’s no guarantee they will be. Regardless, Arizona needs to add pieces to its offense, mainly on the line.
New Orleans Saints (last week: 26)
You never want to get into a shootout with Drew Brees and the Saints. It usually doesn’t end well, and the Cardinals learned that Sunday. The Saints have talent on their roster, but they fail to maximize it on a yearly basis, which is incredibly frustrating. They need to make the most of Brees’ time and improve in 2017 because this season is just about over for them.
Minnesota Vikings (last week: 18)
It’s pretty safe to say the Vikings are toast when it comes to playoff chances. Adrian Peterson looks like a shell of himself, and the defense isn’t the unit it was a few weeks ago. Considering all the injuries, it wasn’t a bad year, but it was definitely one that came up shorter than they had hoped – especially after a 5-0 start.
Cincinnati Bengals (last week: 21)
Marvin Lewis should be extremely worried about his job security, particularly after blowing a good lead to the Steelers at home. A.J. Green’s injury is obviously no one’s fault, but the lack of explosiveness on offense is concerning – especially with it coming the year former coordinator Hue Jackson happened to leave for Cleveland.
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Carolina Panthers (last week: 22)
Cam Newton celebrated like the Panthers had won their 10th game on Monday night, when in actuality they’re still way on the outside of the playoff picture. He looked like an MVP against the Redskins, but far too often he’s been the exact opposite: a mediocre, middle-of-the-road quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts (last week: 20)
The Colts made the Vikings and their once-top-ranked defense look silly on Sunday, piling up 34 points behind Andrew Luck’s solid day. They’re on life support in the AFC South, needing two wins and a couple of losses by the Texans and Titans to sneak in to the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills (last week: 19)
Rex Ryan is coaching for his job each and every week, which makes every victory that much more important. That alone gives the Bills motivation, even if they’re in serious danger of missing the playoffs. LeSean McCoy has been their best player all year, but he can’t do enough to allow Tyrod Taylor and Ryan to keep their jobs. They both could be out in 2017.
Denver Broncos (last week: 13)
Peyton Manning has to be thinking to himself that he might – just might – have been able to do a better job than Trevor Siemian has. The offense has done next to nothing in recent weeks, and though that’s largely due to the lack of a running game, Siemian hasn’t done a good enough job protecting the football. They have a Super Bowl-caliber defense, but they’re not getting the same production on the other side.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last week: 11)
The Buccaneers are still very much alive in the NFC, but Jameis Winston reverted to his old turnover-prone ways at the worst moment against Dallas. In order for Tampa Bay to have success, Winston needs to protect the football and maximize each possession offensively. If not, the Bucs are going to look the way they did on Sunday night: sloppy.
Washington Redskins (last week: 12)
The Redskins didn’t technically eliminate themselves from the playoff picture with Monday night’s loss, but it was certainly crushing. They’ll have to win out just to have a decent shot at making it, and that won’t be an easy task to say the least. They may want to start looking toward 2017 and examining the quarterback position with Kirk Cousins set to be a free agent.
Houston Texans (last week: 16)
Tom Savage, as crazy as it sounds, might be the spark Houston needs to make a run at the playoffs. He played substantially better than Brock Osweiler has all season after replacing him in a win vs. the Jaguars and had a solid connection with DeAndre Hopkins. Most important, he protected the football.
Tennessee Titans (last week: 17)
Unlike the Texans, the Titans have an identity offensively, and more important, don’t have a controversy at quarterback. That alone makes Tennessee the favorite in the AFC South. It still has to face the Texans, which very well could decide the division. Marcus Mariota needs to improve his play to complement the Titans' outstanding ground game.
Baltimore Ravens (last week: 15)
The Ravens kept pace with the Steelers in the AFC North, and it’s quite possible the teams' Christmas matchup will decide the division. Pittsburgh is definitely the better team right now, but Baltimore typically has success against the Steelers, winning six of the last seven meetings.
Detroit Lions (last week: 9)
The Lions opened the door for the Packers with Sunday’s loss to the Giants, setting up a likely winner-take-all meeting against Green Bay in Week 17. Detroit’s offense is extremely one-dimensional with Matthew Stafford getting no help from the running game. They’re a good team, but it’s hard to imagine them winning it all with this sort of game plan.
Miami Dolphins (last week: 14)
The Dolphins still have an uphill climb toward the playoffs with Ryan Tannehill injured, but they didn’t miss a beat against the faltering Jets on Saturday night. Matt Moore played well and the defense stood tall against Bryce Petty. Miami has a solid roster, but losing Tannehill might be too much to overcome.
Green Bay Packers (last week: 10)
The Packers were saved by an Aaron Rodgers 61-yard bomb in the final minute, setting up a game-winning field goal for Mason Crosby. The game should have never been that close, but the Bears fought back after falling behind. The Packers are still a team no one wants to play despite nearly falling to the Bears, and that’s largely thanks to Ty Montgomery’s impact of late.
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New York Giants (last week: 8)
The Giants rarely turn in dominant performances offensively, but the defense is absolutely Super Bowl-caliber. It forces turnovers, makes quarterbacks uncomfortable and makes plays when needed most. Eli Manning and the offense still need to make drastic improvements, but the defense might just be good enough to carry New York.
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Seattle Seahawks (last week: 7)
The Seahawks were never threatened by the Rams, who were playing their first game without Jeff Fisher as head coach. They rolled to a victory, avoiding what could have been an all-too-common upset at the hands of the Rams. Seattle should be able to hold down the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Kansas City Chiefs (last week: 3)
The biggest surprise of the weekend was Tennessee beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead. They were fortunate to get another shot at winning the game after failing on their two-point try with three minutes left, but Ryan Succop did them in. The Chiefs looked pedestrian and inconsistent on offense outside of a huge play by Tyreek Hill.
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Pittsburgh Steelers (last week: 6)
The Steelers looked like they were poised for yet another disappointing outing, trailing the Bengals for much of the game. The offense finally got on track – albeit after Jeremy Hill disrespected the Terrible Towel – helping the Steelers avoid a crushing upset.
Oakland Raiders (last week: 5)
The Raiders were nearly upset by the Chargers, which would have been crushing considering the Chiefs had already lost. Instead, they locked up a postseason berth for the first time since 2002 and have a strong grip on the AFC West with every other divisional team losing in Week 15.
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Atlanta Falcons (last week: 4)
Don’t look now, but the Falcons haven’t won a game by fewer than 15 points since Oct. 30 against the Packers. Granted, they’ve lost two games in between, but their victories have all been dominant. The defense has played relatively well in the past month or so, too, despite being without Desmond Trufant. They’re certainly Super Bowl contenders and got a boost from the Cowboys with Tampa Bay’s loss.
Dallas Cowboys (last week: 2)
The Cowboys silenced doubters with a win over the Bucs on Sunday night. The scoreboard didn’t indicate how much Dallas dominated (three INTs and two forced fumbles), but the Cowboys could have won that game by 17 points. Dak Prescott went 32-for-36 with no turnovers, ending any debate at quarterback. Now, they can march forward without distractions (we think).
New England Patriots (last week: 1)
Guess which team has the No. 1 defense in the NFL when it comes to points per game? That’s right, the Patriots – the same team that traded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in the past year. Their defense has been underrated all season, overshadowed by the sheer dominance of the offense and Tom Brady. This is a Super Bowl team from top to bottom, and there aren’t many other rosters close to theirs.